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First Aussie drive: Audi's new A4 takes on BMW and Benz

New A4: The styling links with the old A4 and the A6 are clear.

Audi believes the new A4 will help it evolve into a true German prestige car company

Audi logo25 Jun 2001

DESPITE its evolutionary looks, Audi Australia is expecting the new generation A4 sedan, which goes on sale in July, to trigger a significant improvement in the way the brand is perceived in Australia.

Audi is very much the "third" German here, but the company believes the new A4 will play a vital role in bringing its image on par with Mercedes-Benz and BMW as well as boosting sales.

The launch range consists of a 2.0-litre available with either a five-speed manual or continuously variable "multitronic" transmission and the 1.8 Turbo four-wheel drive "quattro" manual.

In October a 3.0-litre V6 multitronic will go on sale followed in November by a quattro 5-speed "Tiptronic".

Both the 2.0 and 3.0-litre engines are new, the four-cylinder producing 96kW and 195Nm, the V6 160kW and 300Nm. The turbo engine still with us is the 110kW/210Nm unit, the storming 132kW 1.8 having fallen victim to increasingly stringent emissions testing.

The multitronic can only be mated to front-wheel drive versions of A4 at the moment. Audi claims it is smoother than an auto and more economical than either a manual or auto.

Naturally, pricing has gone up for the models with new generation engines - the 2.0 rising as much as $1950 compared to the old 1.8 and the 3.0 by as much as $4450 compared to the 2.8 it replaces.

The 1.8T is a moot point, compared to the old 110kW front-wheel drive it is up by as much as $5900, but the new car is actually $1500 cheaper than the old 132kW quattro.

Standard specification levels include dual climate-control air-conditioning, CD changer with 10 loud speakers, lap-sash seatbelts for all passengers, cruise control, remote central locking, integrated fog lights and alloy wheels.

The 2.0-litre models miss out on the trip computer and leather upholstery, the 1.8T alone gets a leather-bound sport steering wheel and the V6 3.0-litre A4s boast rear parking sensors, Xenon headlights, front centre armrest, powered front seats and multi-function leather steering wheel.

Safety equipment is high and include an electronic stability program (ESP), electronic brake assist (BAS) for the anti-lock braking system and dual front and side airbags as well as Audi's "Sideguard" head airbag system.

More A4s will arrive in 2002, with the 1.8T multitronic and 2.4-litre V6 multitronic both due in the first quarter. The Avant station wagon range will be unveiled in the second quarter.

Despite the careful and cautious styling changes with hints of both the old A4 and current A6, Audi describes the A4 as "all-new". It is 69mm longer, 33mm wider and 13mm taller than its predecessor.

Important improvements Audi points to apart from the engines and multitronic include newly designed aluminium running gear, increased use of aluminium componentry, improved interior space and a larger luggage compartment.

Audi Australia managing director Graham Hardy said development of the new car dealt with some specific criticisms of the previous generation A4.

"Suggestions for improvements focused above all else on a larger interior," Mr Hardy said at the media launch," and you gave us a bit of a prod with some of your comments about the A4's driving dynamics compared with the competition."Mr Hardy is predicting 1200 A4 sales in the next six months, with the 2.0 accounting for 60 per cent of sales and the 1.8T and V6 20 per cent each. He estimates 2400 A4 sales in 2002.

But he says just as important will be the image boost the car will provide for Audi in Australia as it strives to match its fellow Germans in the prestige stakes.

"There's a series of steps we must take and the message behind this A4 is it is a very big step in moving us upwards in terms of market appraisal and customer perceptions of Audi," he said. "Maybe two or three years and we will be knocking on the door."PRICING
A4 2.0-litre manual $47,400
A4 2.0-litre multitronic $49,900
A4 1.8-litre Turbo quattro $59,400
A4 3.0-litre multitronic $80,500
A4 3.0 quattro tiptronic $84,500

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

JUST 50 kilometres and two hours to sample both the 2.0 multitronic and 3.0-litre tiptronic versions of the new A4 means any hard and fast conclusions are dangerous.

That's particularly the case when the 2.0-litre we sampled was fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels and low profile tyres, a much more aggressive combination than standard.

The result was the typically firm German seat cushioning struggled to soak up some rather harsh shudders and jars that wouldn't be anywhere near as pronounced in the standard car. Presumably, road noise would also be reduced significantly.

The optional rubber accentuated what seems to be a firm and sporting set-up of the revised four-link front and trapezoidal-link rear suspension. The grip, steering and handling were all of a high order, although some drivers complained of the old A4 bogey, steering column shake.

The multitronic seemed prone to its hesitations when acceleration was quickly called for, such as in over-taking situations. Otherwise it proved to a pretty good imitation of an automatic. There's even a "semi-manual" function that allows the driver to shift between six computerised gear ratios.

The engine did the job efficiently as well, perhaps becoming intrusive as the revs rise, with the V6 similarly impressive, just capable of doing the job that that little bit quicker.

And so to that more spacious interior ... 32mm longer overall, 43mm more knee room, 15mm more front headroom, 14mm more rear headroom, 11mm more front shoulder room, 17mm more front elbow room and a massive 29mm more at the rear.

And it all adds up to what still seems to be quite a tight squeeze. While there's no problems up front in terms of room, adjustability (including manual tilt and length on the steering column) or comfort, it's short duration trips in the back seat for full-size adults who value their knees. The middle rear pew is purely symbolic. Forget it and regard this car as a four-seater only.

The presentation is as conservative inside as out, an aluminium swathe across the four-cylinder models' dash replaced by brown walnut in the V6. The instrument panel is again presented in a deep pod, and the vertical centre console continues to offer a stereo head unit that is overly-complex.

Everything is high-quality inside and out, that much is obvious from our brief first acquaintance. But there's not much more to be definitive about ... so far. We'll wait for a better chance to get to know the new A4.

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